Mainland sportswear company Li Ning plans to sign up more international athletes to promote its products, a strategy that has already boosted the company's margins. Chief financial officer Tan Wee Seng said the retailer's gross margin rose 1.4 percentage points to 47.4 per cent last year, partly due to contributions from its higher-end shoes marketed by National Basketball Association star Shaquille O'Neal. The company's higher-end shoes were selling at 699 yuan a pair while typical Li Ning sneakers were priced between 200 yuan and 400 yuan, Mr Tan said. Net margin grew 1.7 percentage points to 9.3 per cent, bringing Li Ning's net profits up 56.7 per cent last year to 295 million yuan as sales gained 30 per cent to 3.18 billion yuan. Advertising and promotion expenses reached 16.4 per cent of Li Ning's sales, up 1.1 percentage points from a year earlier.